• By Michael Little
  • Posted on Monday 14th February, 2011

Allen Review and Family Group Conferencing..

The need for a standard is not only to help us do more things that are known to work, they are needed to do less things known not to work. Or known to have doubtful value. The current round of advocacy for Family Group Conferences (FGC) is an interesting case study. I have no strong feelings for or against this approach that brings together extended members of families whose children may be at risk of harm. The idea of transferring responsibility for resolving difficulties from professionals to family members seems sensible. A home cooked solution seems more likely to work than one delivered from the children’s services bakery. As it turns out, these sensible ideas do not work out in practice. Two evaluations that approach the standards of evidence advocated the Allen Review show that the impact of FGCs on child outcomes is scant (link: Launch of Allen Review) Family members seem to be no better than professionals in resolving problems at home, maybe not surprising when there is maltreatment taking place. The net result is often family members arguing for more vociferous involvement of child protection, just when the professionals are backing away. There is not a lot of evidence to draw on but advocacy for FGCs remains strong. The Department for Education continues to offer support for agencies seeking to promote the approach. In its recent submission to a major review of government policy on family justice, the Association representing the 150 Director’s of Children’s Services in England called for ‘the strengthening of Family Group Conference as a means to promote family owned solutions’. The UK Department for Education is populated by smart people. Directors of Children’s Services are no fools. So why the commitment to something that probably does not work?The FGC idea is good. It just happens that it appears not to work. But decision makers have no common framework to decide what does is and what is not successful. So the ideas that succeed are often those that have the strongest advocates or the loudest voices. People must advocate for their beliefs. That is what I am doing here. But there must also be a place for a common standard, commonly agreed, against which competing options can be compared.That is one of the proposals in the Allen Review. For the sake of child well-being in the UK, I very much hope it is accepted.

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